Did a bit of a premonition draw me to this book?
I began reading my 22nd book late in my pregnancy when it was starting to get real. Being my second baby, I had all the usual concerns: was spare time for me now a thing of the past? would I ever get to write or read again? how was I going to share my love between two kids? would my three-year-old son like the baby at all?
And then there was the thought that this baby could be a girl and (terror!) how would I go being a mum to a girl, when up until then, I’d always seen myself as a boy’s mum?
Granted, being a mum to girls in the 1860s would probably be just a little different to my own experience but I thought I’d give it a go. Thought I’d finally read this classic tale that so many people (everyone, apparently… please read on) seemed to know about but one that I’d never tackled before.
Now let me talk about back cover blurbs.
What would you say is the critical goal of a back cover blurb? Get the reader interested without giving away too much of the story, right?
Well, not according to the 1989 Penguin Classics edition of Little Women.
Picture this: I’d read the first few chapters and decided this was a book worth reading. I’d met each of the four daughters and wondered what their futures would bring. I had a basic understanding of their characteristics and was enjoying getting to know them. Then, silly old me decided to have a read of the back cover.
“Everyone knows the story of the four sisters…”
Well, I was obviously not included in the ‘everyone’, but I read on. Foolishly.
You see, one of the facts ‘everyone knows’ about Little Women is apparently the untimely death of one of the (very key) characters.
There it was. Written right on the back cover. For all to see.
I get it. You want to draw the reader in. And a book where a key character dies in the first few chapters is probably a good enough fact to put on the back cover, as it’s what the whole book is based around, right? But you’d only dare do this if the death happens early on in the book, surely!
There I was, reading chapter after chapter and looking for the point where this character dies. As each chapter passed I became more and more furious at Penguin for giving the story away. It wasn’t until the poor dear finally croaked on page 451 (of a 500 page book, mind you) that I could relax and enjoy the rest of the story.
In saying that, it was a lovely story. The four daughters with very different personalities represent parts of all of us at some stage of our lives. Meg, with her loving motherly ways, Jo with her independence and feistiness, Amy with her goals to be a lady, and Beth… well, let’s not go there, shall we?
So was it a premonition that sat this half-read book on my hospital bedside table untouched for 5 days, as I got to know my own baby daughter?
I like to think so.